Natural Foods Merchandiser

USDA mulls synthetics in organic meat

New regulations for the production of organic meat, poultry and dairy products could be enacted soon.

In late July the National Organic Standards Board proposed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture allow 20 synthetic substances in organic livestock production and processing. They included medications to treat conditions such as diarrhea, fever, and udder and pulmonary edema (swelling). The USDA accepted 12 of the recommended substances and is accepting public comment on the proposal.

"The list of medications that are allowed for livestock producers currently is very small—there aren't many tools in the toolbox—so I understand the need for adding more medications to relieve pain and suffering," said Jim Riddle, former chairman of the NOSB.

"Predominantly, it appears to me that these are very controlled treatment applications and almost all of them have to be administered under the auspices of an accredited veterinarian," said Dennis Stiffler, executive vice president of food safety and quality assurance at Coleman Natural Foods, a Golden, Colo., manufacturer of natural and organic meats. "We're looking at them to see if any of them gives us any extra heartburn."

Stiffler noted that if an animal gets sick, producers are obligated to treat it. "This [proposal] provides the opportunity under those unique circumstances not to lose the organic status."

The biggest challenge, Stiffler said, may be consumer perception about purity. "There'll be some people who put a spin on this, saying 'What you think is organic is not organic,' but I think if we stress that it is USDA-regulated, we are using third-party certifiers, there are checks and balances, and we're providing a good organic product," people will understand that.

Riddle, however, took issue with the USDA's blanket acceptance of the 12 substances. The NOSB had recommended that the withdrawal time for some medications—the amount of time between the last dose and the time when the animal's meat or milk can safely be consumed—be double what the Food and Drug Administration requires for conventional meat production. In other instances, the NOSB recommended that medications be used only for emergency treatment. The USDA rejected those restrictions, noting that the FDA could not have two separate labeling criteria.

"By abandoning the recommendations of the board, they're actually not following the outcomes of our deliberations—they're essentially changing the meaning. Some of these materials may not have been approved [by the NOSB] if there was not that requirement as part of our vote," Riddle said.

The Organic Trade Association does not yet have an official position on the proposal, said Holly Givens, a spokeswoman for the group. The OTA is soliciting input from its membership. "The official position would be finalized probably just prior to the end of the comment period." The comment period ends Sept. 15. To view the proposal in its entirety or submit comments, visit www.ams.usda. gov/nop/Newsroom/newsroom.html and click on Federal Register Notices.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 9/p. 1

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